You can’t park there, Regents!

Everyone has a first. Not many men are proud of their firsts. Their firsts are definitely not proud of them. And I definitely was not proud of mine.

My first experience with our Boat Club was somewhat coital. It was my first time on the water. Sleep deprived, and imbued with what could only be described as abject distress at the amount of people who were walking around, awake before eight AM. With only a week before the start of the Summer VIII’s campaign, I had been recruited last minute to cox.  Equally distressing was the sight of a river full of other boats, with their rowers far more self-assured and their coxes barking instructions like sergeants in the army.

In all honesty, I had very little idea of what I was doing. I had never been in a boat before. As the rowing began, I was still trying to fit all the varying instructions that I had been given, a total of perhaps two that I properly understood. At that point, my eyes were definitely functioning for I could see that we were rowing directly towards the river bank. Alas, my mind was certainly not. That’s when I heard our former cox, a Third Year, cry: “Four more strokes and then call a stop.”

Just like that, my coxing career ended in the most virginal of fashions.

The first stroke passed, then the second, then the third. Perspiration dripped from my brow like the splashes of E-Coli from the River Isis. By the fourth, a mighty thud. And our boat was halfway up the river bank. The beloved Regents Shark wept, her shell cracked, rapidly filling with water. Just like that, my coxing career ended in the most virginal of fashions. A lot of buildup, maybe even a degree of excitement, but in the end, thirty seconds of disappointment. 

To add to the humiliation, my debut would debut on OxRow with the caption: ‘You can’t park there, Regents!’ A few days later, outside a Weatherspoons, I was asked: “Are you the fresher that crashed the boat?” I wished the meek would inherit the earth, all I inherited was a frown and self-resentment. 

In many ways, my experience felt emblematic of my own Regents Park College situated on Pusey Street. The College’s exterior is somewhat Georgian/Neoclassical, while the interior is somewhat Soviet Gulag. Within those walls exists a community with no more than forty undergraduates per year.

Outside of the unfortunately-named name of our street, there seems to be a crisis of faith in the collegiate system. The recent College Disparities campaign has admirably attempted to dissect the Political Economy of Oxford (although sitting from my impoverished JCR makes it difficult to read about how Saint MatricluSubfusculalliolagdlengens gets only 56 million Pounds sterling). I think my primary contention towards the report is that it assumes there is this monolithic experience to Oxford, that you can somehow have or not have. We are not deprived of ‘The Oxford Experience;’ We have our own.

But contrary to what many readers will have convinced themselves is not true, size does matter.

There is something uniquely endearing about Regents. I remember my initial apprehension as a yet to be humbled fresher towards what really did seem like a cult induction. In a city of snobbery, there is something deeply comforting about going back home to a tight-knit community; to a JCR where we all know one another. To a community that revels in our own deeply problematic traditions, we find solidarity in being smaller and poorer than the other colleges. In spite of the sneering jaws of the ‘Big College Four-letter-Words,’ there is a pride in our ever so slightly downsized edition of the customs of this dreadful city. Embracing the utter nonsense that often unfolds within our walls. That’s why my sordid affair with the Boat Club was not all that sordid – the community and Boat Club support one another.

But contrary to what many readers will have convinced themselves is not true, size does matter. We are not only a small college, we are technically not a college at all. The University continues to deny us collegiate status and has forced me to explain innumerable times what the hell a permanent private hall is. In effect, we are further materially deprived. It deprives us of investment, accommodation, a boat house, training for the Boat Club, and training for the cox.

So I end begging the University:

Make us a college, or I will cox again. And this time, we’re rowing straight into your precious M1 boat, Oriel.

Image Description: Oxford’s Summer Eights Regatta.

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys